I am always looking for creative ways to use local ingredients. I figured that cooking okra in an air fryer a might be a good way to use some of the fresh okra harvest which comes in late summer here in Louisiana. My “Air Fryer Whole Okra” experiment was tasty, especially because I poured on the Cajun-type seasonings. However, as a disclaimer, air fryer okra is totally different from deep fried okra. That’s because air fryers “bake” the food with a convection fan running, they don’t “fry.” Why can’t I get that small distinction internalized in my head? I made multiple batches in my air fryer to get the process standardized, using both fresh and frozen whole okra. We devoured all the batches because the okra tasted pretty good. Just don’t expect air fried okra to have a a crunchy batter that “pops.”
Okra is one of those southern summer vegetables which I learned to love since moving to Louisiana. Years ago, our lovely Cajun next door neighbor introduced us to small, tender whole okra pods which were boiled and then loaded with fresh, minced garlic. And I mean loaded with garlic and olive oil. Yum. Then Essie filled us up with slow-cooked oven-smothered okra, tomatoes and onions. Yum, again. That did it. I was hooked on okra. I also learned to love deep fried okra and am proud that I even mastered the art of cooking it at home. And I can brag on my pickled okra recipe. It is the best. Although we didn’t grow okra in our backyard garden this summer — in years past we have had quite a bountiful okra harvest. (The okra are the tall plants in the back of this photo.)
Here are several tips for successfully making this recipe. The first tip involves purchasing fresh okra at a farmer’s market or grocery store. Select only the smallest whole okra pods. This recipe uses whole okra, not sliced okra. Large okra pods — when cooked whole — are inedible. They are full of fibrous strands which you can’t chew up. It is okay to use larger pods in a recipe where they are sliced, but do not try to cook them whole. I would only purchase okra pods which are 4″ or less in length — but who brings a ruler to the farmer’s market — stick to ones which are about the length of your index finger. .
At our local fresh produce market, you are free to sort through the fresh okra and pick out the tiny ones. For this small recipe, I used 8 ounce fresh okra pods which was about 2 cups. If small okra are not available, frozen whole okra can be substituted in this recipe. The texture of the frozen okra dish will turn out to be more like baked okra — not fried, but it is still tasty. It is a bit of juicy but not slimy at all. (I defrosted the frozen okra first before adding to the air fryer basket.)
A second tip is that when using an air fryer to “fry” an ingredient, you still need a little oil to coat the ingredient; otherwise you will just dehydrate the okra. I mixed 1 Tbsp oil (not much oil) with the seasonings and then tossed and tossed the okra until it was completely coated.
The third tip is to fill the air fryer basket only with a single layer of okra. My air fryer basket holds about one cup of okra in a single layer (it is very small), so I cooked this okra in two batches. When I tried to fill the air fryer basket up to the top with okra I didn’t get consistent results even with stirring. Since the okra cooked in 10 minutes; it wasn’t difficult to fix two batches. I learned not to cook this okra too long or the okra had the texture of jerky.
Here are the ingredients for this recipe. The Cajun-type seasonings include garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and salt. A bit of cayenne pepper is optional. I had smoked paprika on hand which gave a reddish color to the finished dish. If you prefer a spicier dish, then double the paprika, garlic powder and onion powder in the recipe.
For a southern touch, I tossed one of the okra batches in finely ground cornmeal. Although this “breading” didn’t adhere to the okra very well, it imparted a nice flavor. Finely ground cornmeal is often used for breading or baking (sometimes called corn flour). Coarsely ground cornmeal imparted a gritty texture — not to my liking.
Air Fryer “Experiment”
Do I like my air fryer? Well, it depends. If you are cooking for one or two folks and only need a small batch of food, an air fryer is a great option. It avoids heating up the oven and the entire kitchen. It is easy to reach the air fryer which is positioned on the counter, or in my case, on the side of my electric stove. I was able to easily check on the progress of the okra and stir it without having to bend over a hot oven. However, there are several disadvantages to using an air fryer, too. Filling the air fryer basket too full means that some of the ingredients are burnt and some aren’t cooked completely. That means cooking multiple batches of the food which can turn out to be very time consuming. And it doesn’t “fry.” It is a convection oven — so that means being realistic with the recipes you try to cook in the air fryer. And my particular model of air fryer doesn’t speed up the cooking time. For example, it still takes 45 minutes to cook a baked potato.
My recipe made a very small batch of “fried” okra; just enough for my husband and myself for a meal. After all my experiment trials, I think I have a recipe which works. We’ve been eating up the okra!
And I must mention the last benefit of using an air fryer. Without all the oil of deep-fat fried foods, the air fryer is much healthier way to “fry” foods — you only use a small amount of oil. Now, that’s a great benefit.
A Very Small Batch of Air Fryer Okra
- 8 oz (approx, 2 cups) small fresh whole okra pods*
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil such as Canola oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder**
- 1/4 tsp onion powder**
- dash cayenne pepper, optional
- 2 Tbsp fine grain cornmeal or corn flour, optional
Method and Steps:
- Rinse, drain and dry the fresh okra pods. Leave okra pods whole with caps on, however, slice any fatter pods in half lengthwise.
- In a bowl, add oil, salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper (optional). Mix to blend the ingredients.
- Add the whole okra pods. Stir and stir to coat all the okra with the oil and seasonings.
- If desired, sprinkle on the fine cornmeal and gently toss to combine.
- Add a single layer of okra to the air fryer basket. (For my air fryer, this was half the okra.)
- Turn the air fryer to 400 degrees and the timer to 10 minutes. Stir the okra after 5 minutes.***
- If needed, cook a second batch of okra.
*NOTE: Frozen whole okra can be substituted for fresh okra. Defrost the frozen okra first and then pat try.
**NOTE: For a spicier okra dish, increase paprika to 1 tsp and the garlic powder and onion powder to 1/2 tsp each.
***NOTE: Some air fryers may need to be pre-heated. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.
Here’s an okra blossom from my okra crop one year. This has to be one of the prettiest vegetable plant blossoms around.